(OPE-L) Re: how simple is too simple?

From: Gerald A. Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sat Jun 12 2004 - 03:41:28 EDT

Hi Ian.  Like my reply to Claus, this also will have to be short.
If a reply on my part  is necessary or desirable, it may have to
early September!

> > I think your analogies above are off-base and misleading.
> I think that's a bit harsh. Assuming commodity types that only require
> labour for their manufacture is a special case of the more general
> situation of commodity types that require both other commodities and
> labour for their manufacture. It isn't an analogy -- the simplified
> production structure is a specialisation of the parameters of the more
> general production structure, just as a circle is a specialisation of
> the parameters of an ellipse.

You refer to this as a 'simplified production structure'.  My point,
though, is that without (produced) means of production, _any_
mode of production or social formation is inconceivable.  That's
why I suggested that your analogy to a circle was off-base and
misleading.  Ellipses and circles can be rigorously and consistently
defined and comprehended.  "Production" without (produced)
means of production posits a situation like Ajit suggested --
silver pickers on a beach (where the silver can be picked up by
hand without requiring any implements).  Even without a
division of labour -- even Robinson Crusoe! --  required means
of production.  After all, even Robinson Crusoe was a 'tool-making

> The simple case of the MELT I
> introduced was intended as a starting point for further discussion, a
> small back-of-the-envelope calculation. I was hoping to get to the
> point where we could discuss whether the MELT is only a theoretical
> measure or if in fact it also has a real causal role (do not have an
> answer). But maybe I am asking too much from a discussion list --
> collaborative thinking on the internet has its limitations.

I have no problem with your attempting to present a simplified case
of the MELT.  You should expect, though, that collaborative thinking
-- whether on the Internet or anywhere else --  involves critical feedback
(unless it is 'brainstorming' whereby participants agree to, at least
initially, not be critical of each others' ideas).

> As to your requirements for a model of capitalism, one point struck
> me. Duncan Foley in his article "Sraffa's legacy" (Camb. J. Econ. 2003
> 27: 225-238) discusses whether it makes sense to construct models with
> explicit commodity types, given the problem of actually identifying
> types of commodities (e.g., is a Hewlett-Packard keyboard the same
> commodity as a Microsoft Natural keyboard?) and the continual churning
> of commodity types (e.g., is my PC today the same commodity type as my
> PC two years ago?). I am conflicted about this at the moment, but am
> inclined towards abstracting from explicit commodity types.

That's an interesting point, but I think it can be able to be dealt with in
various ways including an 'n' sector model. In any event, the issue of how
we list commodity types is quite different from a model type I was
suggesting was inadequate for representing, even in simplified form, the
subject matter of capitalism - a one-commodity model, like a "corn model."

In solidarity, Jerry

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